Happy Earth Day, friends and lovely readers. This annual post has become one of my most popular posts based on reader feedback, and one that I truly enjoy creating. For those that might be unfamiliar, it has become a tradition for me to celebrate this day each year by reflecting on what things myself and my family are doing to treat our Earth kindly and what areas are opportunities for improvement.
My focus over the past year plus has been consuming less, and being a more mindful consumer. I have approached this as an overarching mindset, but the primary area in my own life where I have been working to really make this change is in relation to fashion. When I initially considered this goal, I won’t lie – it seemed daunting bordering on impossible. I had a pretty serious J.Crew addiction but I knew that I needed to start weaning myself off of fast fashion in favor of more ethical options, and buying way less overall. To even term it an addiction felt a little dramatic but now in hindsight, that seems an apt portrayal. The relatively mindless way in which most of us consume fashion, getting each quick fix to stay on trend or because we can’t resist snagging a “deal” has widespread ramifications which our culture is largely blind to. Personally, I think this is due to a blend of actual lack of information and willful ignorance.
In our consumer-driven society, this “buy more, more, more” mentality is obvious everywhere you turn. Fashion blogs, YouTube channels, and social media influencers in particular magnify this mindset in a nauseating way. It was when I considered expanding the scope of this blog to include fashion that I began to consider what sort of impact I wanted to have. Would I always try to be on trend and recommend low-cost items to be more accessible to everyone? Or would I consider the true impact of these consumer-driven “deals”, and urge my readers to do the same? I cannot, in good conscience, use this platform to shill fast fashion products in hopes of lots of affiliate income, getting free stuff, and looking cool on Instagram. Hard pass. It is easy to understand that “buying so much clothing, and treating it as it is disposable, is putting a huge added weight on the environment and is simply unsustainable.” (Overdressed: The Shockingly High Cost of Cheap Fashion by Elizabeth L. Cline)
Making the transition to more mindful shopping and a more ethical wardrobe is definitely an ongoing process, and I would love to write a lot more about this topic. (If you have specific questions or topics you want me to address, feel free to send me your suggestions!) One thing that has helped tremendously in this goal has been learning to make my own clothes. This helps in more ways than you might imagine. The most obvious reason being that I made it, so I know exactly what went into making any of my handmade garments. The added benefit has been that because I understand the effort required to make a piece of clothing, I appreciate even more the notion that workers deserve fair wages and fair treatment in return for their work. One of the mantras of the fashion revolution movement is that if clothing is cheap to us, it’s costing someone somewhere.
Overhauling my approach to fashion and consumption overall has been an intersectional endeavor. I try to buy less overall and in the calendar year of 2018, I have been attempting to buy one new thing per month. One. Do you think you could do it? Four months in, I’ve been only semi-successful with some months buying two items, but even having the goal at all has made a huge difference in curbing my own personal consumption. I have made a concerted effort to mend and alter clothing that in the past I would have simply donated because it was “used up” enough for me. When buying new items, I try to research the companies and consider where their fabric comes from, how it is dyed and printed, how the workers are treated, what measures they are taking to use sustainable production methods, etc. All of this may seem like a ton of work and believe me, when I began this foray into ethical fashion, I felt the same way. But over time much of this has become second nature and it only gets easier with time and practice. A quote from Slave to Fashion by Safia Minney says it well: “We need to be more discerning in our purchasing: buying new items less often, and when we do buy, opting for a mixture of ethically and fairly produced clothing from large factories and items produced in smaller workplaces using artisanal craft skills such as hand-woven fabrics, hand embellishment, and hand knitting.”
While addressing Earth-friendly practices through the lens of fashion is very important, we can’t ignore the many other daily things we can do that make a difference. Here is the running list I share every year, which includes even more suggestions on changes you can make at home.
- Use reusable grocery bags (and don’t forget reusable produce bags as well!) No need for plastic. For all those who own reusable bags but forget to bring them to the store, put them back into your car IMMEDIATELY after you unpack the groceries. Then you’ll never be without them.
- Recycle as much as possible.
- Buy local, eat local. Supporting local farms and food providers benefits you, them, and the entire local economy. (Check this site to find farmers markets near you!)
- Find local markets and support them rather than big box supermarkets. In Indy, Wildwood Market, Goose the Market, and Moody Meats are just a few great options that offer all sorts of local goods.
- Cook at home instead of going out to eat. So many benefits – saves money, fuel, reduces waste and packaging, and it’s better for your health!
- When you do eat out, support local restaurants instead of huge chain entities. In particular, seek out eateries that focus on serving local and seasonal fare. It tastes WAY better, and supports the local economy. Win-win!
- On a related note, bring your lunch to school or work instead of buying food. It wastes less packaging, tastes better, and is usually healthier. (My Let’s Do Lunch series was created for this purpose.)
- Make school lunches for your kids. Same idea as above! Follow me on Instagram and check out my hashtag #anniesschoollunches for inspiration.
- Give up paper towels, napkins, and disposable dishes or utensils. Stock up on reusable alternatives – they’ll last you a long time and save money in the long run.
- Don’t use plastic water bottles. Buy a reusable bottle and refill it instead. (And don’t drink other things that come in plastic bottles such as soda or juice – they aren’t good for you anyway.)
- If you do end up with a plastic cup or bottle while out and about and recycling is not easily accessible, don’t just toss the item in the trash because it is convenient. Bring plastic cups, bottles, or other packaging home and recycle them!
- Start a garden and grow your own food. So fun and rewarding! My friend Tara has great gardening info on her blog.
- Can and preserve your own foods so you can buy less processed food and its associated packaging.
- Give up your daily coffee shop trips and brew your own treats at home. (Here are a few things I make at home to avoid the coffee shop.)
- Make your own yogurt and fruit mix-ins to avoid the waste of all those individual yogurt containers.
- Cut down on junk mail by opting out of catalog and coupon mailings. Visit websites of the offending companies and have your address removed from their mailing list. Much better than recycling junk mail is not having the waste created in the first place. Check out PaperKarma to help address this!
Also, be sure to check out past Earth Day posts because they have lots of other suggestions, both from me and from eco-savvy readers in the comments!
I’ll be hosting a series of giveaways in honor of Earth Day this week.